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Cabin Fumes from Non-Fire Sources

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Non Combustion-related Fumes


Article Information
Category: Fire Smoke and Fumes Fire Smoke and Fumes
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
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Description

Fumes from various non-fire related sources may sometimes be experienced within the cabins of passenger aircraft.

Sources

Most modern passenger aircraft are equipped with pressurised, climate controlled, cabins. In spite of the aircraft designers’ intentions, unwanted fumes frequently permeate the interior of the aircraft. Open doors and hatches as well as certain on-board sources can introduce fumes to the cabin environment. However the usual path of entry for fumes is via the aircraft pressurisation and air conditioning systems.

The majority of passenger aircraft utilise bleed air from the engine or Auxiliary Power Unit to pressurize and heat or cool the aircraft cabin. As a consequence, any contaminants introduced into the engine/APU compressor prior to the point from which the bleed air is extracted may result in the appearance of corresponding fumes in the passenger cabin and flight deck.

Accidents and Incidents

Cabin air contamination

  • A320, vicinity Dublin Ireland, 2015 (On 3 October 2015, an Airbus A320 which had just taken off from Dublin experienced fumes from the air conditioning system in both flight deck and cabin. A 'PAN' was declared and the aircraft returned with both pilots making precautionary use of their oxygen masks. The Investigation found that routine engine pressure washes carried out prior to departure have been incorrectly performed and a contaminant was introduced into the bleed air supply to the air conditioning system as a result. The context for the error was found to be the absence of any engine wash procedure training for the Operator's engineers.)
  • E195, en-route, Irish Sea UK, 2008 (On 1 August 2008, an en-route Embraer 195 despatched with one air conditioning pack inoperative lost all air conditioning and pressurisation when the other pack’s Air Cycle Machine (ACM) failed, releasing smoke and fumes into the aircraft. A MAYDAY diversion was made to the Isle of Man without further event. The Investigation found that the ACM failed due to rotor seizure caused by turbine blade root fatigue, the same failure which had led the other air conditioning system to fail failure four days earlier. It was understood that a modified ACM turbine housing was being developed to address the problem.)
  • DC93, en-route, Cincinnati OH USA, 1983 (On 2 June 1983, a DC9 aircraft operated by Air Canada was destroyed following an in-flight fire which began in one of the aircraft’s toilets. 23 passengers died in the accident.)
  • E190, en-route, southwest of Turku Finland, 2017 (On 3 December 2017, an Embraer E190 en-route at FL310 was already turning back to Helsinki because of a burning smell in the flight deck when smoke in the cabin was followed by smoke in the flight deck. A MAYDAY was declared to ATC reporting “fire on board” and their suggested diversion to Turku was accepted. The situation initially improved but worsened after landing prompting a precautionary emergency evacuation. The Investigation subsequently attributed the smoke to a malfunctioning air cycle machine. Issues with inaccessible cabin crew smoke hoods and with the conduct and aftermath of the evacuation were also identified.)
  • B738, Glasgow UK, 2012 (On 19 October 2012, a Jet2-operated Boeing 737-800 departing Glasgow made a high speed rejected take off when a strange smell became apparent in the flight deck and the senior cabin crew reported what appeared to be smoke in the cabin. The subsequent emergency evacuation resulted in one serious passenger injury. The Investigation was unable to conclusively identify a cause of the smoke and the also- detected burning smells but excess moisture in the air conditioning system was considered likely to have been a factor and the Operator subsequently made changes to its maintenance procedures.)

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